Biden signs bill to avoid holiday rail strike
- December 3, 2022
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WASHINGTON — President Biden signed a measure Friday morning that will enforce a railroad worker contract his administration negotiated in September to avert a statewide halt to rail service ahead of the holiday season.
“The law I’m about to sign into law ends a difficult railroad dispute and helps our nation avoid what would undoubtedly have been an economic disaster at a very bad time on the calendar,” Mr. Biden said before signing the law.
The bill passed the Senate Thursday with bipartisan support, 80-15, with GOP Senator Rand Paul voting “present.” The measure was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this week after the President called on Congress to intervene.
An amendment that would have added seven days of paid sick leave to the rail contract failed by a vote of 52 to 43. The Senate also voted against a GOP amendment for a 60-day cooling off period for union and railroad negotiations.
“I know this has been a difficult vote for members of both parties,” Mr. Biden said Friday. “It was tough for me. But it was the right thing to do at the moment to save jobs and protect millions of families from damage or disruption and keep the supply chain stable over the holidays and continue the progress we’ve made.”
President Joe Biden signs HJRes.100, a bill aimed at averting a railroad strike, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Friday, December 2, 2022. Biden is joined from left by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Mr. Biden called on Congress to intervene after four of the 12 railroad unions rejected the agreement between railroad workers and operators. The Biden administration is urging quick action as workers threatened to strike if they didn’t reach a collective agreement by Dec. 9. While some lawmakers, notably pro-labor Democrats, have expressed hesitancy to intervene, congressional leaders agreed on the need to avoid a rail strike that could deal a blow to the economy.
Mr. Biden received the four leaders of the House and Senate at the White House on Tuesday, and they discussed Congress’ role in preventing a railroad closure.
“I negotiated a deal that nobody else could negotiate,” Mr. Biden said during a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday. “The only thing left out was whether there was paid vacation.”
The President added that the US is a rare prosperous nation without guaranteed paid vacations, and he wants to provide paid sick leave “not just for railroad workers, but for all workers.”
The compromise agreement, brokered with the help of the Biden administration, includes a 24% pay increase and $5,000 in bonuses and an extra day of paid vacation retroactive to 2020. Under the proposal, workers’ premiums would be capped at 15% of the cost of the insurance plan.
Railroad unions have criticized Mr. Biden’s call for Congress to meddle in the treaty dispute, claiming it undermines his repeated characterization of himself as “the most unionized president.”
But the president said this week that failure to act could have devastating effects on the economy.
“It will immediately cost 750,000 jobs and cause a recession,” Mr. Biden said Thursday of a strike. “What was negotiated was so much better than anything they’ve ever had and they all signed.”
The president said he would continue to “fight for paid vacations not just for railroad workers, but for all American workers.”